Garrett v. First State Bank of Central Texas: No informal fiduciary relationship

Garrett v. First State Bank of Central Texas: No informal fiduciary relationship

In Garrett v. First State Bank of Central Texas, the Waco Court of Appeals considered a dispute over the ownership of a decedent’s account. The bank filed an interpleader when faced with competing claims to the account proceeds, between the decedent’s estate and his caregiver.

The decedent added the caregiver as a signatory to his money market account. After decedent’s passing, the caregiver claimed he wanted the account to pass to her after his death. But the trial court ruled the account documents the decedent signed did not make her the survivorship beneficiary. There was a dispute as to whether the decedent had actually instructed the bank that he wanted the caregiver to be the beneficiary of the account or just a signatory to pay bills.

The caregiver sought to recover from the bank, allegedly because the bank representative did not follow the decedent’s instructions regarding the account paperwork. One of the claims the caregiver made was that the bank breached an informal fiduciary duty it owed to act in the caregiver’s best interest.  The jury decided that there was no relationship of trust and confidence between the caregiver and the bank.

The court of appeals affirmed the jury’s finding. I suspect that the court of appeals might have overruled that finding even if the jury had gone the other way.  Texas courts are reluctant to find informal fiduciary relationships in business and banking situations. There would have to be substantial evidence of personal trust and reliance over an extended period of time.

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